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Getting X-Functional Teams Right!

Cross functional teamworking is not new as many industries have been working in this fashion for many years. For industries like Engineering, setting up cross functional teams both within the organisation and with other organisations to work on major projects is now second nature for them. Just think about the aircraft manufacturing sector; companies like Airbus and Boeing rely on other companies to manufacture distinct parts of their aircraft and then bring all the relevant parts together at their assembly plants. This all requires expert project management capability to be aligned alongside the actual ability to work as high-performance cross-functional teams. Some industries though, who are relatively new to cross-functional team-working, are struggling to get out of the ‘silo mindset’. One such industry which I have major experience of is the pharmaceutical industry and this industry can still operate very much in a ‘silo mentality.’ Whilst they bring various functions together to achieve the best promotion for their brands, many organisations struggle to get their cross-functional teams to operate effectively and as a result some functions can tend to dominate these teams with the consequence that the organisation, the customer, and in the case of pharma, the patient, can truly miss out.

In this short article I would like to highlight what can go wrong with cross-functional teams and suggest some simple and effective ways to ensure that your cross functional teams can get off to the best possible start and achieve high-performance.

Cross-functional teams in commercial pharma are a necessity as regards enabling the best possible and most effective brand strategy to be put in place. Too often, though, the brand strategy is created by the marketing department with only marginal input from the Commercial Sales, Market Access, Business Intelligence, Learning & Development and Medical functions. This can result in dissatisfaction from each of the associated functions as the brand strategy does not fully fit with local market environments and may even possibly cause compliance issues. Therefore, having a high performance cross functional team operating to ensure a dynamic and compliant brand strategy that all associated functions really ‘buy’ into and believe in, is absolutely essential. So, how can it go wrong?

Mindset. Firstly, the set-up of the cross-functional team can go wrong from the very start as the mindset of the various functions is wrong from the start. The mindset is still very much of a ‘silo’ nature and cross-functional team members can go into the first meeting with their ‘department hat’ on and it may also be the case that they are unwilling ‘representatives’ of that department. The mindset must be that while the team member is representing the function, they are there to lend their experience and expertise to ensure that best brand strategy is created for the company. It is not about ‘flag waving’ or ‘getting their way’ – it is about collaboration, cooperation, debate, and final agreement as to the best possible outcome. The ‘silo mentality’ must be left ‘at the door’ – you are joining a team and a team that needs to work together to achieve its purpose and its specific goals.

Some questions that need to be considered at the very start and agreement gained across team members:

  • Have you agreed the exact purpose of the cross functional team?

  • What specific aims and goals have the team to deliver?

  • Are the team members there as 'representatives' of their function or are they there to be fully inclusive and committed members of the cross-functional team?

  • Are all team members fully committed to the ‘cause'?

Measurement: Many ‘function’ members of the cross-functional team join the team and take on actions on behalf of the team. The challenge is that the team member may not be recognised for the actions that they take on and deliver on behalf of the team. They are measured using archaic and ‘function only’ objectives, usually based on a standard role description as opposed to a specific objectives document that outlines what the individual must achieve across all the functions and teams that they work with, and in. Many cross functional team members I have spoken to over the years highlight that this is a real issue as performance ratings, bonus and potential salary increase are at stake. If the rewards are dependent on the objectives in the original objectives document and are focused on their function role then it is no surprise that as time goes on the individual may focus on the core function objectives as opposed to the objectives they are carrying out on behalf of the cross functional team.

Some questions:

  • Are all team members going to be measured on and recognised for their cross functional team objectives?

  • Are these cross functional objectives specifically written into the individual’s objectives document for the year?

Leadership: This can be one of the key reasons as to why cross-functional teams struggle to get going. If the appointed team leader has not got the capability and knowledge of teams and team dynamics, then the team can struggle to get out of the ‘starting blocks.’ The team leader needs to be able to facilitate a group of ‘function’ individuals and be able to ensure that the team starts to gel and work well together, having enabled them to fully buy into and engage with the team’s purpose and specific aims and goals. Many team leaders have been ‘appointed’ by a function head as this is an opportunity for them to develop but support must be given via coaching and mentoring to ensure they develop into the role whilst still ensuring that the team forms sufficiently well to be able to focus on delivering the purpose and the goals.


  • Has the Team leader got true cross functional leadership capability?

  • Do they have the necessary knowledge of teams, team dynamics and team performance?

  • Do they possess a ‘cross functional team mindset’ or are they simply heading the team with a ‘silo mindset’?

  • What support in being given to inexperienced team leaders? Who is coaching and mentoring them while they lead the cross functional teams?

  • If the leadership is to be 'rotated' do all the team members have the necessary team leadership skills and knowledge?

Diving’ into Task. This is the downfall of many teams and not just cross-functional ones. The desire to ‘get things done’ before seriously looking at how best the team is going to operate can mean the difference between high performance results and total disaster resulting from conflict. Time must be taken at the very start of the cross functional team’s life to work out how the team is going work together and be that cohesive unit, devoid of ‘silo mentality,’ that will deliver excellence. The only way to do this is to have a facilitated round table (or virtual) meeting whereby the needs and expectations of every team member is discussed, and the outcomes detailed in a Team Contract or Charter. Very few teams do this, and they plough on with the tasks and wonder why morale drops and people are generally getting demotivated as time progresses. Every cross functional team should ensure they have a team contract or charter that covers (at a minimum) their Purpose, their Aims and Goals, how they will work together (Needs and Expectations) and an agreed Review process.

Support. Cross functional teams in pharma are important. They have an important task in relation to enabling the correct brand strategy to be created. It is important to the company, the functions involved, the Healthcare Professionals and ultimately the Patient. To that end it is irresponsible of senior leadership to simply delegate the task to a more junior line manager. Even if a senior leader takes on the team leader role, support for that team should be sought from another senior leader and one who is capable of playing an effective coaching and mentoring to role to enable the team to work effectively together to achieve its aims and goals. Too often cross functional teams can be left floundering with the result that attendance at meetings declines due to ‘other core role priorities’ and as such the team can struggle to hit their aims and goals. With the cross functional team having many stakeholders from each of the associated functions it is always best to discuss how the team can engage and gain the support of these stakeholders.

Review, Reward and Recognition: It is imperative (as it is with any team) that the team reviews its progress regularly to ensure it is on track to hit its goals. It is also imperative that the team reviews it team contract to make sure that all the agreed processes, and desired attitudes and behaviours are being demonstrated consistently, competently, and confidently. In addition, the team needs to make sure it recognises the efforts and achievements of both the team as a whole and the individual team members, ensuring that individual success is reflected in that team member’s own individual performance review. Above all the team needs to celebrate every ‘small win’ on the path to achieving the overall key aims and goals.

Cross-functional teams are vital to the successful completion of projects and their outcomes. In pharma in particular, the success of cross-functional team can mean the difference between a successful brand launch and a failed launch so time, effort and expertise must be put in to ensure they get off to the best possible start and are supported throughout their journey.

Resilience: All teams have to be resilient and the more 'complex' a team is then the harder the team has to work to build and keep this resilience high. Resilience is built through a number of key factors including having all team members 'buy-in' and be emotionally engaged with the team's purpose; having real focus on the team's aims and goals; team members having absolute clarity of their individual roles, responsibilities and objectives; everyone committing to agreed behaviours and attitudes; a robust review process, and having strong trust within the team and also with key external stakeholders. A team charter together with a team development plan will ensure that these key components of team resilience and team performance, work productively for the team and builds both resilience and performance.

Cross-functional teams are designed to bring the best capabilities from various functions together in order to complete projects and tasks productively and effectively. They do need support to work together effectively given the differing pressures and expectations that are placed upon them. Don't just make assumptions that they will automatically gel together and start producing. This could be a recipe for disaster.

If you would like to know more about our 'Resilient Partners' team development programme then simply direct message me through LinkedIn or via email at . Alternatively call me on ++ 44 (0) 776 416 8989

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